When Lil Wayne was first starting in rap music, Cash Money Records paired him up with fellow baby rapper BG in the duo known as the BG’z. They released their first album in 1995. That means Lil Wayne has been releasing music for 25 years. He is 37 years old. Wayne was already a hitmaker before he released Tha Block Is Hot, his debut album. That album is now more than 20 years old. Lil Wayne has been globally famous for more than half of his life. He has been through shootings, blood feuds, addictions, court cases, prison sentences, in-flight seizures, and the most dangerous life experience of them all, child stardom. The mere fact that Lil Wayne is still alive and making rap music in 2020 is impressive. The fact that he even shows flashes of his old genius is downright miraculous.
When Wayne released Tha Block Is Hot, 2 Chainz, one of the guests on Wayne’s new album Funeral, was half of the duo Playaz Circle, and he’d just come under the wing of Ludacris. Adam Levine, another Funeral guest, was recording the first Maroon 5 demo. The-Dream was two years away from getting a writing credit on a B2K album. Big Sean and OT Genasis were in middle school. Lil Baby and Takeoff were kindergarteners. The late XXXTentacion was one year old. Some of these guys are straight-up middle-aged now. Some of them are older than Lil Wayne. Not one of them even had a career when Lil Wayne became a star.
One of the songs on Funeral, the Jay Rock collab “Bing James,” ends with a 24-second pause. That moment is a pause in honor of Kobe Bryant, who died just days before the release of Funeral. This makes sense. Wayne has always been a sports junkie, the kind of guy who leaves ESPN on all day long and who has serious opinions about pitching rotations and the tuck rule. And he’s always been a sort of contemporary of Kobe Bryant. Bryant was four years older than Wayne, but he joined the NBA the year after that BG’z album came out. Bryant and Wayne are both two of the best ever at their respective crafts. And Wayne, like Bryant, grew up in public. If you’ve paid attention to rap music for the past two decades, then you’ve seen Wayne’s entire improbable life unfold before you. Wayne must’ve identified with Bryan in ways that most of us could never comprehend.
But legends usually comport themselves as legends. When Kobe Bryant retired a couple of years ago, he went on a full-season goodbye tour, receiving gifts from all the teams he’d fought so mercilessly to beat. Rap legends often do similar things, turning album releases into big, deafening events and closely monitoring their public images. When Jay-Z puts out an album now, it exists in conversation with his entire legacy. When Eminem puts out an album now, it’s usually about how anxious he is over his own legacy. But on Funeral, Lil Wayne does not seem to care one little bit about his legacy. Instead, Lil Wayne just raps.
Lil Wayne has always just rapped. When he was at his peak mixtape run, he rapped constantly, throwing brain-melting freestyles out into the void as a matter of course. In The Carter, the 2009 documentary that Wayne himself disowned, we see a bit of that at work. Wayne is on tour, but he doesn’t stop recording; he cranks out quick verses in a rigged-together hotel-room studio. He’s never not rapping. “Rapping” is Lil Wayne’s natural resting state.
For years, though, Lil Wayne could not rap. Locked into a court battle with Cash Money, his career was on hold. He’d occasionally pop up with guest verses, or with weird little things like a Tidal-only album or a full-length 2 Chainz collab. But he was not legally allowed to do what he does in the way that he does it. When Wayne finally ended that hiatus and returned with Tha Carter V in 2018, his reemergence was a spectacle. He made worked-over songs with many of the big stars who he’d influenced, and he walked away with a huge commercial success. Tha Carter V was a much stronger album than I’d feared it might be, but it didn’t really give the sense that Wayne was just rapping, that he was putting every goofy thought that crossed his addled brain onto a beat. That’s what I like about Funeral. Funeral is the return of the Lil Wayne who just can’t stop rapping.
Wayne released Funeral last week, with no early singles and just one week of advance warning. There is still no official single, no videos or radio-promoted tracks. Other than an appearance on NORE’s Drink Champs podcast and a truly ridiculous one-episode run on The Masked Singer, Wayne has done nothing to promote this album. As Wayne said on that Drink Champs episode, he didn’t even pick the beats on the album, leaving that task entirely up to longtime lieutenant Mack Maine. Wayne also pointed out that he doesn’t even pay attention to current rap music. He had no idea, for instance, that Kanye West was out here conducting church services.
lil Wayne’s reaction to Kanye’s Sunday service 💀💀 pic.twitter.com/gy0a8PSGGC
— Arab Iverson ♛ (@nadineee23) February 1, 2020
I love this. Wayne is off in his own universe, waiting for someone to point him at a track so that he can rap like a monster once again. On Funeral, he does a whole lot of that. Funeral, like just about every Lil Wayne album, is too long. It’s weighed down with boring, portentous half-ballad songs. Too much of it is serious. Too many of those guest stars get too much time. It’s pretty clear from the opening title track that Mack Maine played Meek Mill’s “Dreams & Nightmares Intro” for Wayne and just told him to do that. (Rappers need to stop attempting to make their own “Dreams & Nightmares Intro.” You can’t do it. It can’t be done.) Sometimes, Funeral feels like an endurance test. But when Wayne is on, he is on.
There are moments on Funeral that recall the free-flowing insanity of peak mixtape Wayne. You can almost see his synapses firing, his voice careening wildly from one idea to the next. A classically horny New Orleans bounce track veers into X-ennial word games: “Call me Kurt Cocaine, wilding like I’m Nirvana/ I eat it like a piranha/ She got a tongue like iguana/ She wear her hair like E. Honda/ A birthday suit for pajamas.” Inspirational get-money talk turns hallucinatory: “Say slime, I done ate slime/ Money tall like 8’9”/ But I’m still starving like a skinny model in LA slime/ That plate mine.” “Ball Hard” somehow makes catchy hooks out of celebrity-namecheck word salad: “Run a mile like Jackie Joyner, bitch should go read a thesaurus/ Pretty Tony, Pretty Ricky, Ricky Martin, Martin Lawrence/ Lawrence Taylor, Taylor Swift, tailor-made, made in China/ Blac Chyna, Black Mamba, baby mama, Lady Gaga/ Wait, Rihanna, ball hard, Sinéad O’Connor.”
The best run on the whole album might be the absolutely deranged stretch on “Mama Mia”: “I’m out of my Kufi, narcotic abuser/ No needles cuz my pockets balloning/ Your partners is poodles, your bears is cubs, your crocodile’s toothless/ Titty-fuck your baby mama/ She breastfeed your child while I do it/ I’m stupid.” To recap: Lil Wayne is promising to titty-fuck the mother of your child while your child is breastfeeding, and he is doing this immediately after saying that your crocodile is toothless. I don’t know which one is more devastating. I don’t know which one is funnier.
If Lil Wayne had let loose with that “crocodile’s toothless” bit in 2006, my friends and I would still be texting it to each other 14 years later. But he didn’t. He said that now — after everything, after this long and strange and perilous career. If 100 of us would have lived out careers like the one that Lil Wayne has had these past 20 years, at least 60 of us would be dead. Most of the rest of us would be in drug-zonked stupors. Not Lil Wayne. Lil Wayne is still capable of “your crocodile’s toothless.” That’s legend shit.
1. Sauce Twinz – “Moon”
Before “Moon,” Sauce Twinz, the Houston duo of Sauce Walka and Sancho Saucey, had not made a song together in three years. They came back hard, like they’ve both been waiting for the chance to prove that they’re better than the other guy. What they’ve made here is just chaos. It’s shout-rap armageddon. It’s fucking hilarious, and I love it.
2. Sada Baby – “Slide”
The historic run continues, and now it’s got signature dance moves — moves like You Got Served.
3. Payroll Giovanni – “Ex Dealer Flow”
At the other end of the Detroit rap-underground spectrum, we’ve got Payroll Giovanni’s masterfully modulated cold-blooded veteran-leader flow. Everything he says is so calm and crispy and matter-of-fact: “I gotta make my family proud of me/ Can’t turn into the guy my son ain’t allowed to be.”
4. ALLBLACK & Offset Jim – “Trip On It” (Feat. DaBoii, $tupid Young, & Fenix Flexin)
California is absolutely lousy with young rap monsters right now, and most of them sound exquisitely bored. Six of them are on this song, and every one of those six is ready to send you into an hour-long YouTube deep-dive.
5. Lil Yachty, Lil Keed, Lil Gotit, & Zaytoven – “A-Team (You Ain’t Safe)”
With the possible exception of Lil Keed, I should be sick of all these guys. And yet this song is so mournful and so pretty.
IT WAS ALL GOOD JUST A WEEK AGO
G-Eazy giving his boys the rundown this morning pic.twitter.com/TuvtYTojhT
— Black Person ✊🏾 (@EricTrillman_) February 3, 2020